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Downeaster Returns To Pre-Pandemic Frequency As More Riders Take The Train

Downeaster Anniversary
Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press
FILE- In this Dec. 8, 2011 file photo, the Amtrak Downeaster travels through Portland, Maine.

Downeaster train service is returning to its pre-pandemic frequency on Monday, with five round trips a day between Brunswick and Boston and the resumption of service to Old Orchard Beach.

And the last train out of Boston will be held for a late departure on nights when there's a Red Sox game or evening event at T-D Garden in Boston.

Maine passenger rail authority chief Patricia Quinn says preliminary data showed ridership at 28 percent of pre-pandemic levels last month.

That was an improvement over March, when ridership was just 19 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

Quinn says she expect gains to continue this summer, especially since two-thirds of Downeaster passengers ride for leisure, the segment of travel demand that is picking up more quickly than business travel.

The recent bump in ridership came during April's school vacation week. "We had a lot of families that traveled with us, more than had been, and we were pleased to see that," Quinn says.

Quinn says she expects ridership to continue to rebound this summer.

That news comes as rail operator C-S-X has told federal regulators that — if its purchase of Pan Am Railways is approved — it plans to implement new train-controlling technology on tracks used by the Downeaster.

Quinn says that the technology, known as "positive train control," acts somewhat like the cruise control on a car:

"It provide a backup for the engineer, to make sure that, if the engineer can't do what he or she is supposed to be doing, the train will do it on its own, or will come to a stop," she says.

Positive Train Control would likely have prevented a 2015 derailment in Philadelphia that killed 8 people. In that crash a distracted AMTRAK engineer went speeding into a curve causing the train to derail.

Quinn says, in addition to adding a layer of safety, the technology would help lift a current limit of six round trips a day on the tracks between Brunswick and Haverhill, Massachusetts.